Early settlers named the whitebait species 'Galaxid', after the galaxy, as they thought that the spots on their backs looked like stars in the night sky.

Whitebait catch consists primarily of the young of three species: inanga, koaro and banded kokopu; inanga is by far the most commonly caught species.

Giant kokopu, short-jawed kokopu and smelt are also occasionally present in the whitebait catch along with the young of many other fish such as eels, bullies and trout.

Most whitebait species spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea.  However, some have adapted to being landlocked in lakes and no longer have to migrate to the sea to breed e.g. dwarf inanga.


In late winter and early spring whitebait migrate back up rivers and streams, finally settling and growing in bush covered streams and swamps. The start of the migration is thought to be influenced by river flows (i.e. shortly after floods) and phases of the moon.


Mature inanga adults migrate downstream to lower river sections and estuaries to spawn in grasses covered by water during spring tides. The eggs remain in the grass until the next spring tide covers them again when the young hatch and are carried out to sea. The spawning habits of other whitebait species are not well known.


The five galaxiid species are found in many different habitats from lowland swamps to rocky streams. Their presence appears to be closely tied to overhead cover and waterside vegetation.


Giant kokopu live in swampy and heavily vegetated streams, often in pools over a mud bottom. Short-jawed kokopu, banded kokopu and koaro prefer fast flowing rocky or boulder bottomed streams with forest cover. Inanga are less "fussy" but are generally found in lower catchment waters.


One of the major problems affecting the whitebait fishery is the destruction of habitat for egg laying or adult fish. As whitebait adults tend to live in natural swamps and bush covered streams it is in the best interest of whitebaiters to ensure that adequate areas of these habitats remain.


The Department of Conservation has been active in identifying whitebait spawning habitat and arranging for its protection. Protection has involved seeking the co-operation of landowners to have spawning areas fenced off from stock. The Department sees the protection of whitebait spawning habitat as playing a major role in enhancing the lasting viability of the fishery.


Another major problem is barriers that stop young fish from getting to adult habitat.


Please note that whitebait are native fish and the giant and short-jawed kokopu are under threat in many areas!


Your assistance in keeping the whitebait fishery healthy not only benefits you, but the health of New Zealand's natural living systems. Don't take more than you need.





Kokopu School Whitebait Connection programme 2012

Kokopu School is found in the largest river catchment in Northland, the Northern Wairoa, which flows into the Kaipara Harbour. With 90% of students from farming families, Kokopu School staff and students live an active life in the outdoors. Even though the school is named after one of our Whitebait  species, most students knew very little about their local waterways and where they met with the sea. Enter the Whitebait Connection to help the school in their term topic of “Special New Zealand”. A special helper was also part of Kokopu Schools WBC Programme – Eden Hakaraia, a Royal Society of New Zealand Primary Science Teacher Fellow.

Field trip 1 – Waimarie Nurseries & Waipao Stream

Together, WBC and Kokopu School investigated the life in their local waterways and why they were special – first in the classroom, then followed by a trip to some local kaitiaki of the waterways – Waimarie Nurseries. There students, teachers and their families saw how plants were raised and why native plants are so important to healthy streams.

Matua Buck, Tony and the Bruce family then helped the students be a part of local riparian planting 100 plants along the Waipao Stream. Investigations also found lots of life including freshwater crab, shrimp and snails.

Field trip 2 – Farm

The Waimarie trip was a great day for all involved, but students and teachers wanted to see more of their local catchment – the perfect spot was a small unnamed creek on one of the students' farm. Students took part in in depth water quality testing including temperature, pH, macroinvertebrate and freshwater fish sampling.

“Im keeping my eyes peeled for pest plants” one year 4 student explained to the group before going into the stream – at the end of the day all agreed the Farm Creek in the upper catchment was in pretty good shape – but could be helped by fencing to keep the cows out. There was also a notable absence of Banded Kokopu – the fish  namesake for the local area.

Kokopu Kaitiaki

The students of Kokopy School put a lot of effort into showing their community that they are kaitiaki  after their experiences at Waimarie Nurseries and the farm. Findings from the field trips were passed onto families including notices developed by the students on how important fencing is the the streams. The students and teachers have shown their commitment to improving the local waterways by seeking funding in collaboration with the Whitebait Connection and Waimarie Nurseries to reinstateregular student classes on native plant propogation and riparian restoration at the Waimarie Facility – early support has been indicated by Nga Whenua Rahui and Fonterra Grass Roots Fund. Watch this space!

Students also have developed a plan for seasonal ongoing monitoring in the local waterways with support from Northland Regional Council and organised a beach clean up at Smugglers Cove in December as an actionproject while on the Whitebait Connection Programme – taking the message from the montains to the sea.

Year 7 & 8 students presented their action pllans to other youth from aorund Northland at the Northland Regional Council event – Coastal Youth Summit in October 2012.

Kokopu School are also taking part in the Experiencing Marine Reserves Programme in term 1, 2013, with support from the ASB Community Trust.

Please  contact Kokopu  School's Whitebait Connection Coordinator Nicki Wakefield  on nicki@whitebaitconnection.co.nz for more information on their programme. Thanks to ASB Community Trust for funding Kokopu's  programme.

Teacher evaluation comments:

“The goal is for the students to continue ongoing monitoring of the mini beasts in the streams and farm drains around Kokopu” Mark Ashcroft, Principal Kokopu School

“My highlight was seeing the kids planting along the river, full knowing that they were helping the creatures”

“The learning with the Whitebait Connection has kick started Kokopu School to become more engaged with environmental issues, and use the environment more in our learning”

“This learning is so real, and involves everyone”

Student evaluation comments:

“I'm going to make sure my parents look after our creek” year 4

“I wish we could go to my creek at home and see if it is health y too” year 7

“I want to help the Kokopu and frogs survive” year 2